Texas Red may have surprised his rivals in last year’s Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita, upsetting 10 rivals by 6 ½ lengths at odds of 13-1, but the talented son of Afleet Alex did not sneak up on Margarita Urtubey.
As the assistant trainer to Jeanne Mayberry at Mayberry Farm in Ocala, Fla., Urtubey gets her hands on her share of fashionably-bred youngsters. Her job is to teach them how to become racehorses.
Texas Red, who is expected to square off against Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in Saturday’s historic renewal of the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, owes his foundation to Mayberry and Urtubey.
A winner in three of eight lifetime starts for owners Erich Brehm, Wayne Detmar, Lee Michaels, Dr. Gene Voss and trainer Keith Desormeaux, Texas Red has already banked more than $1.6 million and is fresh off an impressive score over Frosted in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) Aug. 1.
Urtubey fondly remembers Texas Red as a happy young horse with an almost sweet disposition.
“He was a big, gangly colt with long legs,” said Urtubey, a native of Uruguay. “He was very laid back and super sweet. He was a beautiful baby and always a happy horse. He enjoyed every minute of his lessons in the morning. It was almost like he was saying, ‘wow, I have a human on my back.’
“He was never afraid, and he also loved his turnout time,” she added. “He was very respectful of boundaries, and he is an intelligent horse. He never had a scratch on him like some horses that just run into a fence without measuring the consequences. He would come into his stall happy as a clam, eat his hay and then take a long nap.”
At two, Texas Red broke his maiden in his third race, winning a maiden special weight at one mile over Del Mar’s all-weather surface. He finished third in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita in his next outing, losing to none other than subsequent Triple Crown hero American Pharoah.
An issue kept American Pharoah out of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and Texas Red capitalized on his absence. Dismissed at long odds, Texas Red announced his arrival by romping home a clear winner over the previously undefeated Carpe Diem.
With an eye-catching last to first move under regular pilot Kent Desormeaux, Texas Red made short work of a competitive field in the Juvenile. Knifing through runners five wide a quarter-mile from home, the athletic colt hit the front in the lane and lengthened his advantage to the wire.
“He has such a beautiful stride that his success as a 2-year-old did not surprise me at all,” said Urtubey. “I was so happy to see him run in the Breeders’ Cup. Words cannot describe the emotions of seeing him crush the field and gallop to the wire.
“In my opinion, Keith Desormeaux deserves a lot of credit. He is an excellent trainer and a true horseman. He understands the importance of not over-training a horse.”
Considered a leading contender for this year’s Triple Crown, Texas Red was forced to bypass the classic races with foot issues.
“It was very disappointing not to see him run the Kentucky Derby, but the very good ones give you all they have, sometimes even overriding small pains that can later turn into career-ending injuries,” Urtubey said. “I applaud his connections for not giving in to the pressure they must have felt to try to hurry him through the healing process and race him instead of giving him the necessary time he needed to be back feeling prefect. I can only imagine how devastated they must have been with the news that he was injured and would not make the Triple Crown races.”
Given ample time to fully recover, Texas Red has returned to the races as strong as ever as evidenced by his game victory in the Jim Dandy, a traditional prep race for the Travers.
“His last race was amazing,” Urtubey said. “He showed he was back and feeling good and enjoying every second of it.”
As for Texas Red’s highly-anticipated showdown with American Pharoah in the Travers Stakes, Urtubey is taking a realistic view.
“American Pharaoh is out of this planet,” she said. “He has given all of us in the industry an amazing ride. I love the sport, and American Pharoah is making history. I watched the Triple Crown with my two daughters (ages 12 and 14), and he made the three of us realize that we were being blessed just watching him in action.
“I congratulate the connections of both horses for making this race happen. It is going to be a wonderful race.”
Urtubey comes by her horsemanship skills naturally. She grew up on her family’s ranch in Uruguay, where horses were part of everyday life.
“We depended on horses for almost everything,” she related, “from tending to the cattle and sheep to taking us to school and to town.
“In Uruguay, horses live outside, rain or shine, and each ranch has one stallion with its own broodmare band. Foals are born with little human intervention, and it is quite amazing what happens when horses are left alone and nature takes over. It was quite a shock when I came to the U.S. and saw how little trust people had in a horse’s natural instincts. I think that is what makes me good at my job. It’s the balance between truly seeing and feeling the horse and trying to make him enjoy and look forward to the human interactions.”
Urtubey believes strongly in the benefits of teamwork, and her team at Mayberry Farm struck with another Saratoga stakes winner when Exaggerator captured the Saratoga Special Stakes (G2) for Big Chief Racing Aug. 16. That 2-year-old son of Curlin, also trained by Desormeaux, has now won back-to-back races after receiving his early tutelage from Urtubey.
“Every person from the groom to the night watchman to the rider is vital in a horse’s development,” she said. “We are teaching these horses as babies, and a wrong attitude or too harsh an action can ruin their natural disposition to please, turning them into unhappy and distrustful 1,000-pound animals. Horses are magical, and we have to treat them as such.
“I believe that every person interacting with our horses has to know this. Sometimes it is a very difficult lesson to teach, and that is one of the reasons the job of a trainer can be very demanding. It requires very little to ruin a horse’s mind and lots of love and patience to build a strong one.”
Urtubey should know.